Non-medical Essential Workers Need More Protection Against COVID-19

Having a partner in non-medical essential work highlighted gaps in the support they receive

(Flickr/ Marcin Wichary)

When my partner asked me to be his emergency contact for work, I thought I would never actually get the call.

His job is considered essential because his company supplies and distributes food across Canada, and last Wednesday, I got the call.

“I’m having trouble breathing,” was the first thing he said to me. “I think I should go to the hospital.”

He called 8-1-1 while I was on my way to him.

It’s hard to describe the fear I felt. My body was tense and my chest was tight. It wasn’t just the possibility of my partner having the virus devastating the world which rendered me into a zombie-like state, but also the possibility of losing him when our lives had barely begun.

The responder he spoke to on the phone told him that testing started at 8:00 am, but that he didn’t have enough of the symptoms and likely wouldn’t qualify.  He had to wait there while I went home to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Eventually, he was examined by a doctor who said he was fine and sent him home without a test.

Although my boyfriend was feeling better at that point, we decided to quarantine apart from my mom, who is immunocompromised.

It took a day for my partner’s breathing to get back to normal. He suspects it was related to an existing medical condition.

Once we were in quarantine, I asked him what the management at his workplace was doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although they set up hand sanitizing stations and reminders for social distancing requirements, he feels it isn’t enough to protect him and his coworkers.

He feels that the company’s production should be reduced to allow for social distancing, and the government should regulate and ensure that social distancing and safety measures are being adhered to. There should also be follow-up inspections to ensure that they remain in force over time.

He says there is a basic screening and temperature check for employees when they come in to work but it should be more thorough. He would like to see a government official conduct the screenings themselves, or at least provide a list of what each non-medical essential service should be screening for and how to do it.

Screening helps identify symptomatic carriers, but masks should still be provided to prevent the virus from being transmitted by asymptomatic carriers, especially in instances when social distancing isn’t possible on the job.

There should also be a clear standard protocol for responding to possible COVID-19 cases within the workplace and supplemental training given to first-aid attendees, ideally through an online course or information package.

There is a list of COVID-19 symptoms and suggestions to reduce the risk of transmission, but there are few concrete incentives for companies to follow the recommendations of health officials — especially when it interferes with production.

I’m lucky that my job allows me to work safely from home, though many of my friends have lost work. I suppose it should be comforting knowing my partner still has his job, but it isn’t.

I’m grateful that we are both okay, but my boyfriend is back on the job, where essential workers are still in need of adequate protection against the novel coronavirus.

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